Fred Warner

Why Fred Warner looks forward to meaningful Vikings stadium return

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It was over five years ago, but 49ers linebacker Fred Warner remembers the moment like it was yesterday.

The All-Pro defender made his NFL debut just two months shy of his 22nd birthday in September 2018, taking the field against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium for the first of what would be many games to come.

And next week on "Monday Night Football," Warner will return to Minneapolis for the first time since that memorable day.

"This game does have significance to me," Warner told his wife Sydney on "The Warner House" podcast. "The last time I played in Minnesota, Vikings stadium, I was just a young ol' pup -- 2018, rookie year, my very first game of my NFL career, regular-season game.

"It was a good little debut for me. I made a couple plays. We didn't win that game, unfortunately, so that was the only thing we've got to make sure we do differently this time around."

That 49ers-Vikings matchup in 2018 featured quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Kirk Cousins going head-to-head, just a couple of weeks before Garoppolo suffered a season-ending ACL tear. Cousins was making his highly anticipated Vikings debut and held on for a 24-16 victory over San Francisco.

After San Francisco selected Warner in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, he impressed in his first training camp with the team and earned the starting middle linebacker role to open the campaign. Warner repaid coach Kyle Shanahan's confidence in him with a stellar debut against the Vikings, tallying a forced fumble, one pass defended and 12 tackles, 11 solo, in the loss.

While Warner of course recalls what happened on the field the last time he visited U.S. Bank Stadium, what he remembers most are the raucous Minnesota fans.

"My rookie year, that game, I was so nervous because it's my first start. They gave me the green dot to be the mic to call the plays, it's away on the road in a hostile environment," Warner said. "Back then, Minnesota -- I don't know how good they were at the time, but it felt like they were the best team in the league when I walked out there because you hear them horns blowing, and they're like, 'Skol! Skol! Skol!'

"I'm looking around like, 'What did I get myself into?' It was insane. It was so intense. I'll always remember those horns going off in the pregame. ... I'm sitting there as a young rookie like, 'Golly, I don't know if I'm confident.' But you take it one play at a time and you go on. I'm excited to hear the 'Skol' chants again."

That's exactly what the 49ers are doing now after their first loss of the 2023 NFL season this past Sunday -- taking things one play, one game at a time. As was the case with the Cleveland Browns in Week 6, Warner recognizes another stout team, horns and all, awaits the 49ers in Week 7 on Monday night.

But this time, he hopes to walk away with a win.

"It's going to be a huge challenge," Warner said.

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